Freelancing is a hot topic in the online jobs economy. To many newcomers, freelancing sounds too good to be true. You get to work from home, on your own hours, on your own terms and on personally interesting projects. What could possibly go wrong? Well... There are many amateur mistakes you can and will make in the entire duration of your freelancing days if you are not aware of them. Let me just run you through all the things you could do to fail at freelancing.

You think freelancing can make you rich from home:

Freelancing can be a rough life. Freelancing may not be for you if you need to pay your rent, food and utilities with the money you earn from it. You will not get rich freelancing, period. I know people working at Walmart and still making more than I do as a freelance web developer. You'll most likely have to juggle 2-3 clients in order to make it viable for you month-to-month, but you won't always find people who want to hire you. A real, physical job almost always pays more.

You NEVER have a plan:

Do NOT just sit down and start coding or writing; make a plan. Having a plan is much better for your mental health since you are setting goals and limits on how much you will do daily during the project's development process. Having everything planned out beforehand will also keep your client happy. Your client wants to see results, not a bunch of technical jargon B.S. in their Skype DMs. Make sure that you and your client are on the same page, this will make sure that the outcomes are as expected for both parties.

You're too afraid to ask for money

Know the value of your skills and services. I've been in situations where the effort I put into something for a client greatly outweighed the amount I was being paid for it. I chalked it up to my lack of experience but later realized I was ripped off. Understand what your client can pay you, how much you think your labour is worth and strike a compromise you both are happy with.

Learning how to appropriately price your services comes with experience. Becoming familiar with the quality and relative speed of what you can produce plays a key role here. Start by referencing the fees of other people charging for similar tasks and then see how much a client is willing to pay for your work.

You don't know when to ask for upfront payment:

Upfront payment is not always an option, but it should be taken when available. You can't trust the person you're working for if you don't see money very soon. If you've made nothing in the last two weeks, you're probably just wasting your time. Having some non-trivial work that needs to be done offers an opportunity to ask for money upfront. There are, however, situations where this is absolutely out of the question.

Say you have to build a content management system with JWT for a news website as an example. That's a medium-sized job that is probably worth $200 US or more. Asking for $30-50 upfront is very reasonable as long as you can guarantee the work will be completed. If you don't have samples and you're hiding your identity, you will not be paid upfront—end of conversation. On the other hand, if you have a nice portfolio, the project is rather large and you're one of the few people—or the only person—onboard; asking for upfront payment is usually reasonable.

Going maverick

One big problem with amateur freelancers is that they don't coordinate well with their clients. Give your client exactly what they want, nothing less. Tell them what you're working on and keep them up to date. Freelancing is not like solo independent projects to entertain yourself; you are risking your reputation and possible returning clients or referrals.

People who act this way are most commonly fired very quickly. No one wants to work with someone who refuses to work as a team.

Not knowing when you're being taken for a fool:

It's been 4 weeks and no sign of any cash; you've done your work but your PayPal is still empty; something is up. If you press the issue with your client and get no response for days, bail out and make your work open-source. Just because you wasted time on your client does not mean your work has to go to waste.

A telltale sign that your client is not going to pay you is them being inactive for long periods of time or resisting questions about payment. If you've given them samples of some of your previous projects and are willing to work for a reasonable fee suited for the task; they should not show any hesitation for paying you. When someone who is looking for people to spend money on is not willing to talk about money, you really ought to back away.

Being in a situation where you are not paid for your work is a horrible thing to happen but not the end of the world. If your work is complete and you were not forced to sign an NDA; you can go ahead and put the project up on your GitHub page and showcase it as a sample of your work. This experience should teach you the next lesson in this article.

Not knowing who you're working for:

Not knowing anything about the person who is promising you money should be a major red flag. Make sure to call or video chat with your clients and try to establish trust by getting to know who they are. Never work for someone who will not reveal their identity as they are most likely trying to scam you. Make the point of asking for any social media they might have so you can see how old their accounts are and what their character is actually like. If you see any praises to Antifa or Hitler in their Twitter feed, RUN! Have some common sense about the people who you'll be working for.

Not meeting deadlines

There are many people much more qualified to get jobs done than you are, remember that. The fact that you happened upon a client is amazing and should not be taken for granted. Your client's projects are not school papers; do not slack off. If freelancing online is your first real exposure to actually working, you'll realize very quickly that the real world is not like school. You can't keep things off until the last moment and cram your ass off to get paid. Clients want results and you'll likely have to coordinate with multiple clients at a time.

Make a good impression with your clients. An astute employer will know whether or not they want to keep you within the first week of work. Missing deadlines is a great way to get fired and left eating out of the garbage.

Making money the most important thing:

Don't bang out projects just to turn a profit. If you're a freelance writer promised $25 per article, don't write a large quantity of low-effort articles. Your client will most likely see what's up and quickly have you kicked to the curb. If you think you can scam people like this, you'll most likely be unsuccessful.

If someone is paying you for each page you create on a website, don't make a million pages. Your client hasn't payed you yet and may never if your work is not up to their standards.

There are many things that freelancers should prioritize over money: experience, the challenge, a taste of a certain industry, networking to find a real job or building a portfolio. Putting money before everything is a less than healthy thing to do to yourself. Don't count the dollars of your pay before you get it. Getting paid as an amateur freelancer is often based on a high amount of trust and luck.

You're overly selective

No job is beneath you in freelancing. You aren't the god of code, so drop the attitude. If you are offered work, take it. Waiting a while before you find more job opportunities is not uncommon and should be anticipated. I know so many talented programmers who can't find a job, though they are perfectly qualified for one. Sometimes you have to take what you are given, no matter how much more you think you deserve.


Hopefully after reading this article you'll be more wary of these amateur mistakes that will cause you to screw up while freelancing. I'm hoping that you will find a more stable job in the future with the experience you'll gain as a freelancer. I wish you safe travels and happy hacking!